Friday, 25 July 2014

Jack the Giant Slayer and the Specialist Fighter

I recently took up karate classes. (As an aside, I recommend doing a martial art wholeheartedly. And I don't mean boxercise. As a gym rat who goes four times a week I thought I was pretty fit and in shape and in touch with my body. Doing karate twice a week has taught me there is not just a whole other level of physical fitness, but a whole other universe. I've never ached like I've been aching the last couple of weeks. But in a really good way.) When I was younger I did quite a bit of tae kwon doe, but that is getting on for 15 years ago now and although I have a bit of muscle memory, I'm effectively approaching the whole thing as a beginner.

Today we were practising a simple routine, blocking a slap to the head and then delivering a punch to the sternum. At one point the teacher stopped me and my partner to demonstrate. He told us that we may just have been blocking a "slap", but then he showed us how there are different levels of slaps - he used the base of his open hand to just lightly tap my jaw and said, "A proper slap will break this." And I could feel that small movement make my entire jaw bone shift from side to side.

It reminded me of my old Tae Kwon Doe teacher showing us a pattern in which one of the moves was a specific punch delivered at a certain angle and a certain point so as to make the target void his bladder. That's how specific martial arts get. Traditions stretching back thousands of years, perfecting the art of killing people.

Now, in the West we have lost those traditions, although WMA and and HEMA people are doing their level best to reinvigorate them, but there's no reason why in a fantasy world that would have happened. Those martial traditions would be unbroken and ancient. Doesn't it seem likely that in such worlds, martial arts schools would have developed teaching to teach people how to kill not just other people, but also orcs, trolls, ogres, giants, dragons, etc.? Here's how you jab a spear just so that it ruptures a hill giant's spleen. Here's where an orc's jugular vein is - different to humans, slightly to the left. Here's the spot to hit if you want to make a dragon shit itself...

In view of, this, I give you the experimental Jack the Giant Slayer Rule.

At character creation, the player of a fighter can specify that his PC has received training in how to fight a certain type of monster or humanoid. From that point, once per combat, the player can elect to do double damage against that creature type, but he must declare this before rolling to hit. 
A fighter may undergo specific training for killing other types of monsters and humanoids every other level. 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Wahey We're The Insects

My friend Patrick wrote an excellent recent blog post which set my mind whirring with different post ideas. Expect me to pontificate at great length about Tall Tales of the Wee Folk in the near future, but in the mean time I thought I'd resurrect an old idea which is germane

Anthropomorphic insects is an idea I've had in my mind for a while but it never quite gained any traction. Recently it has as I've been watching our back lawn get increasingly overgrown - we're in the process of moving house and, to be frank, I can't be fucked mowing it if we're going to be moving anyway. I'll probably get around to it next weekend.

Anyway, when a garden gets overgrown, even in a benign environment like the outskirts of a British city, all sorts of things start to happen. The grass gets long and sprouts these high, almost waist-high, tendrils full of seeds. Miscellaneous flowers - buttercups, dandelions, daisies - appear from nowhere. Big patches of clover spread inexorably across huge patches of hither-to pristine lawn. Bumblebees of different varieties hover from place to place, expertly dodging grass fronds which must, to them, be like trees are to us. Flies and midges float about in intricate, private dances. Butterflies appear for a moment and then flit onwards to the next garden. Strong thistle-like weeds thrust up through cracks in flagstones. At night hedgehogs appear, snuffling round in a manner which is cute to us but genocidal, baleful, inexorable terror to worms and beetles. 

It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.

So why dress up an anthropomorphic insect RPG into anything more than somebody's overgrown back garden? To a beetle, my lawn is the size of a city. And my lawn is not particularly large. Most sizeable gardens are to them as large as a county or a minor. And there is another one right next door. Moreover, this is a three dimensional, complex environment. Ant burrows and cracks in the earth lead to tunnel networks akin to dungeons. Shrubs and bushes are like gargantuan jungle trees bigger than anything a human can comprehend the scale of - like sky scrapers, in fact, rather than trees. What's in that watering can? A cold, stagnant lake full of hunting larvae lurking in its depths. What's under that flagstone? A tribe of armoured woodlice muttering to each other in the damp darkness. What's in the corner of the shed? An undead spider lich and the dusty, dead cobwebs it uses for its spells.

And think of the possibilities for playing with alien mindsets, alien values, alien needs. The praying mantis class: obsessed with waiting; for it patience is pleasure, and it can only use its full powers when the foe is unawares. The ladybird class: voracious, uncaring, protected by its shell; it simply attacks and eats anything small with instinctive ferocity that cannot be overridden. The cockroach class: not so much a survival expert as a paragon of longevity - it does nothing well except continue to live. The aphid class: not one individual but a dozen clones who each know exactly what the others will do because they have more in common than the closest twin.

In this environment the enemies would be spiders, intelligent hunting sorcerers who play with the bodies of their victims; robot-like ants who simply swarm and devour with mindless purpose; dragon-like birds with sharp eyes which will swoop and attack the instant you cross open ground; and many other threats from above, below, or under the nearest stone. Treasure would be the different nectars produced by flowers, or the bonanza of a dead rat or fledgling. Quests would be to rescue kidnapped comrades from the lair of the termites, to assassinate an ant queen just beginning to set up a new nest, or to raid a neighbouring garden for the toxic ingredients to repel a blackfly invasion.

Or perhaps the goal is simple survival. The PCs as a group of insects with a certain sentience who live under the constant threat of death - death from hunting, death from starvation, death from the weather, death from poison, death from sheer twist of fate - and who, for some reason, have the rudiments of cooperation necessary to rise above the nasty, brutish, short lives of their peers and achieve something approaching rest, peace, security, calm. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Deliberate RPG Rulebook Sass

I'd like to take this opportunity, really apropos of nothing, to discuss what I have come to think of as a distinct phenomenon - Deliberate RPG Rulebook Sass. This is my term for a certain stylistic choice made by writers of RPG rulebooks to, for want of a better way of putting it, take a sassy, slightly hectoring, almost tough guy tone in their writing and the way in which they present the information. It's a question of taste of course, but I don't like it.

It's hard to explain in the abstract, but it's something that I am certain you will recognise if you have read the kind of modern, indie games in which it is most used - particularly, for some reason, introductory sections on what role playing represents.

Take Mythender, for example, which is to my mind probably the paradigm case. This is more or less from the first substantive page:

Or you’ll tell the stories of how you ignore all that humanity business and go pedal to the fucking metal, diving headfirst into the heart of Myth and leaving piles of corpses in your wake. You’ll gain power by making mortals to worship you as a god. Eventually, your comrades will be forced to murder your Mythic ass. 
Spoiler alert: they totally fucking will. [...] 
Mythender is about kicking ass and erasing names to a heavy metal sound track, about dancing on the knife’s edge between having the power to slaughter abominations and becoming an abomination yourself. Go do that already

See what I mean? "Go do that already." Deliberate RPG Rulebook Sass, turned to 11.

Sometimes it manifests itself in a slightly smarmier fashion. See, for instance, this section from Houses of the Blooded:

If you’ve ever played a roleplaying game before, you may have noticed that characters seldom age—locked in a perpetual state of twenty-five years old—and they always seem to “get better.” As they move through their lives, experience points always add to the character’s abilities. Regardless of how old they look, all RPG characters seem to be an eternal and everlasting twenty-five years old. 
Not so here.

Leaving aside the sniping at D&D, it's that final coda - "Not so here" - which turns this into Deliberate RPG Rulebook Sass. Picture the author wagging his finger at you with a slight smirk playing across his lips. "Not so here." There's that slightly patronising subtext which is the mark of true sass.

The patronising subtext can become the supertext when the Deliberate RPG Rulebook Sass becomes overt. Here's a section from the introduction to Apocalypse World:

You probably know this already: roleplaying is a conversation. You and the other players go back and forth, talking about these fictional characters in their fictional circumstances doing whatever it is that they do. Like any conversation, you take turns, but it’s not like taking turns, right? Sometimes you talk over each other, interrupt, build on each others’ ideas, monopolize. All fine. 
All these rules do is mediate the conversation. They kick in when someone says some particular things, and they impose constraints on what everyone should say after. Makes sense, right?

Makes you feel like a 9 year-old, right?

Now, I don't want to be misunderstood - I like Mythender and Apocalypse World, and Houses of the Blooded is interesting if not exactly my cup of tea. Please think of this post less as a critique or a snipe, and more of a plea to the future game-designers out there. Keep the sass to a minimum and just write nice, simple, plain, non-sassy and non-patronising, yet evocative, English like this:

Before television, there was radio. Audiences earlier in this century sat in front of their radios
and thrilled to the exploits of bigger-than-life radio heroes. Since it was radio, they couldn't see
what was going on, but they didn't need to—all the action was described by dialogue, narration, and sound effects, and was translated by the imaginations of the listeners into scenes they could see, experience, and remember. 
Role-playing games are much like radio adventures, except for one important detail: they're interactive. One player provides the narrative and some of the dialogue, but the other players, instead of just sitting and envisioning what's going on, actually participate. Each player controls the actions of a character in the story, decides on his actions, supplies his character's dialogue, and makes decisions based on the character's personality and his current game options.

Go do that already.

Monday, 21 July 2014

A Yoon-Suin Location

10 thin, long black rocks sticking up through the forest floor arranged into two roughly semicircular groups of 5; close inspection may reveal that one of the rocks in each group is slightly shorter than the others. They are the fingers of a demigod imprisoned in a subterranean tomb. Over the eons he has stretched his hands up towards the surface in a vain attempt at escape; they now poke up through the loamy soil. If anybody stands in the middle of one of the ‘hands’ it causes the fingers to close, grabbing the victim and crushing him or her to death instantly on a failed DEX check. The demigod then leaches the victim’s soul to empower his eventual escape. Careful examination of the topsoil in the area will reveal old bones and treasures equivalent to TT Sx3, Tx3, and Ux3 around the fingers – the remains of previous travellers the demigod has killed.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

In Loving Memory of a Name

The Hobbit is, I think, the most widely liked of Tolkien's books. This is partly because it's a kid's book, and although fantasy is becoming sort-of trendy these days, it's still easier for an adult to admit they like kid's fantasy books (The Hobbit, the Harry Potter books, His Dark Materials, etc.) than grown-up ones. 

That said, I think Tolkien had a way of hitting on deep profundities in his work - this is why his books have such great appeal decades after his death - and a very simple example of this comes in The Hobbit in its genius for names. 

Think about the places where the action happens in The Hobbit. The Misty Mountains. Mirkwood. The Lonely Mountain. Lake-town. The Long Lake. River Running. Notice anything? The names actually mean something. Tolkien, of course, had other words for these places, the names in his own invented languages. But he refrained from using them. This may have been simply to avoid putting off young readers, but it gives the places a concrete, real feeling: The Lonely Mountain is an incredibly evocative name because the name itself gives you a visualisation - a mountain, all on its own, in the middle of a wilderness. Likewise Mirkwood; it hardly needs a description once you've read the name. It's a dark forest. A murky wood. Lake-town: it's a town on a lake (literally). 

I prefer this approach to fantasy naming. Compare The Lonely Mountain to Hespereth Strait. Lake-town to Sargava. Mirkwood to the Mwangi Jungle. I may be being slightly unfair picking on some deeply unevocative names I stumbled across in the Pathfinder wiki. But you get my drift.

Strangeness is at its most effective when there is something anchoring the person experiencing it, and sometimes the best way of doing this is simply through the use of language. Tolkien seems to have understood this well, if only implicitly: the concreteness and simplicity of the place names in The Hobbit give the reader something to hold on to - you don't have to struggle with imagining the Hespereth Strait and fumbling over the pronunciation of 'Mwangi' in your mind, and can devote your full attention to the story against the images which the words 'The Lonely Mountain' naturally bring up in your mind. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

I'm Starting With the Man in the Mirror, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Hate Internet Pharisee-ism

I've been making an effort recently to bring my signal-to-noise ratio within healthy limits. This means generally avoiding watching the news, visiting news websites and forums, and steering clear of the internet in general as much as possible. (Sport news and my The Economist subscription being the major exceptions.) My basis for doing this is the idea, advanced by Nassim Taleb and others, that the really valuable information will find its way to me eventually, and I can cut out distractions and false/irrelevant news.

It seems to have been working, in that most of the things that find their ways to my ears seem worth knowing, and I don't appear to be missing out on anything by not learning what all the fevered egos on Twitter or think about issue X or Y.

I have today learned about all the drama that G+ has been afflicted with recently regarding the release of D&D 5th Edition and how it seems to be bad that Wizards of the Coast have employed Zak Smith as a consultant because, er, jazz hands. (The reason appears to be that Zak has been involved in making porn and for a certain breed of politically correct nerd that must implicate him in something awful, for no defined reason other than that it simply must.) So that must qualify it as signal. And that makes it worthy of a blog post - at least indirectly.

For some reason, for a sizeable portion of the population of Western societies, being offended has become something to luxuriate in: self-righteousness is addictive and provides our brains with a kick that is more powerful than any drug known to man. You see it in religious fundamentalists, you see it in liberals, you see it in conservatives, you see it everywhere. People get off on anger because it makes them feel good about themselves - it reassures them that they are good and that awful person over there is bad and they can rank themselves in the hierarchy of goodness accordingly.

This is nothing new. Jesus spent considerable energies fighting Pharisee-ism but not even the Son of God could sort it out: the people who are today trawling the internet searching for things to be offended by in the name of their liberal/conservative sensibilities are the exact same people who were watching Jesus curing lepers on the sabbath and muttering "Tut, tut" into their beards because he was working on the holy day. Times change but human impulses are as old and immutable as solid granite.

The thing about Pharisees is that they are insecure; they hated and feared Jesus because of what he represented and what he was delivering - freedom, love, etc. He was showing them up. And internet Pharisees are no different: what they hate most of all is other people creating things, doing things, enjoying themselves, having fun. Because their own inflated sense of self-importance is threatened by it - they are so sure of their own brilliance and access to universal truth that they feel that more successful and happy people are showing them up. They should be the ones everybody looks to, but they're not. It frustrates them and they rage against it.

If you feel you are an internet Pharisee, here is a three step plan to easy cure:

1. Start creating a game or game-related product
2. Put it on your blog
3. Play it any enjoy it

The drug of being offended by what other people say and do is distracting you and robbing you of your creativity and passion. Put it to one side and your life and games will be so much better for it.

Friday, 6 June 2014

An Example of the Yoon-Suin Gazetteer in Action

I thought it would be nice to show what my Yoon-Suin supplement (provisionally entitled the "Yoon-Suin Gazetteer") allows a DM to do. This is an example of how a campaign centred in the Yellow City could be brainstormed. There is no fluff or interpretation at all, here. I simply spent about half an hour following the process, rolling dice and noting down the results. Some of it will not make sense without the book in front of you; it's just a sample of what can be done in a very short space of time.

There is still leg-work for the individual DM to do after such a process, as will be apparent: joining up the dots and fleshing things out is something that takes a little extra time. What the book doesn't do is tell you what to do with the data that's generated. That's for you to use your imagination. 

So, the first thing to do is to draw up a social circle for the PCs. This involves generating a handful of social groups which the PCs know of and are known to, and a handful of NPCs they likewise know of and are known to. Not all of the information regarding them is known to the PCs, of course. And this is just a tiny fraction of what is out there in the Yellow City; this is a huge city, teeming with life. 

First, the social groups: 

A Noble House, called the Purple Family. [A Noble House is a mercantile, trading family, somewhere between a mafia clan and a legitimate commercial interest. They control all the trade in and out of the city together with the other Noble Houses, and are the only form of government, such as it is. All the members are slug-men.]  
There is a conflict within the Purple Family: the spouse of the matriarch and the teacher of the matriarch's children are in an adulterous relationship.
There is a rumour that somebody tried to poison one of the high-ups in the family, but accidentally killed a taster instead. The family want to know the culprit.
A Shrine, to a hawk-aspected demigod with food, males, and death as her spheres of influence. She demands sacrifices of invertebrates, and her holy colour is green.
The head sacrificer at the shrine has an incurable addiction to a certain type of opium.
There is a rumour that an important holy artefact has gone missing.
Another Shrine, to a crane-aspected demigod with famine as her sphere of influence. She demands sacrifices of mammals, and her holy colour is black.
A mad visionary has stolen something from the shrine.
There is a rumour that under the shrine there is a network of catacombs the members believe to be haunted.
A Philosophical Society, who practice sophistry.
One of the members, an important scion of a Noble House, has been driven mad by his ruminations.
There is a rumour that the society wants a former member, who has renounced its beliefs, assassinated. There is a further rumour that the society wants hallucinogens to further expand its theoretical insights.
An Exploring Guild, called the Society of Many Journeys. 
A magician patron is betraying them by passing secrets to a rival.
There is a rumour that the group have recently brought a strange, puissant artefact back from a journey - and powers in the city want it. 

Next, some individual NPCs contacts of the PCs. 
(The humans)
A cockroach butcher, over-friendly, called Pallab. He desires adventure.
An embezzler, called Rusheek, who is always accompanied by a small child. He has a rival.
A jeweller, with a haunted, desperate air, called Raakhi. She has a rival.
An assassin, with white pupils, called Mahek. She is jealous of the possession of another.

A scholar of automata, called Po Le, who is always accompanied by two slaves. He desires more knowledge.
A teacher, called Polaha Vo, who is especially slimy. He needs to pay off crippling debts.
A magician, called Malaba, who is a lover of the arts. He hates an enemy. 

As you will see, there are plenty of opportunities for adventures, missions, jobs, plots, and schemes there already.

Once the social circle has been established, the next stage is to develop further hooks. These are jobs or adventures that can be found out by the PCs simply by asking around the nearest opium den or tea house.

First, there are random connections.

A holy man, a small person called Edhas, needs to transport something to an assassin.
A cockroach clan chief, a grossly fat man called Mahantha, wants a dwarf refugee kidnapped.
A philosopher, Giriraj, who always walks on tip-toe, wants something stolen from Puli, an over-friendly beggar.

Then, there are simple random rumours. I'll just roll up 3. 

Russet mould has taken over a ghetto and is turning everyone in it into mould men.
A vampiric mist has made its home in a park in the grounds of a palace.
Golden wormlings have burrowed from somewhere into the basement of an archive and have been eating all the books and scrolls. 

This creates the raw material for a city-based campaign; as I said, it took roughly 30 minutes to generate it. It's now the job of the DM to start fleshing this out as appropriate. Clearly, there is no need to flesh out everything here. But as I hope you'll see, you can start off with the Yellow City chapter, roll some dice for less than an hour, and hey presto! there should be at least a dozen different hooks there for you to create into fully-fledged "rumours" to begin a Yellow City-based sandbox.

And it only scratches the surface of the different possibilities available.

Next, we turn to the surroundings of the Yellow City.

The map looks like arse; it will look better in the final version. The red city icons are the Yellow City proper; the black ruined icons are the Old Town - parts of the city which have been abandoned over the course of the aeons and gradually returned to the forest; they are home now to ghosts, exiles, outcasts, and mysterious magical features. The sea hexes are dotted with small islands - the Topaz Isles - which contain many small communities, monster lairs, etc.

There are three steps here. The first is to generate, and place on the map, some small communities which are found on the Topaz Isles. I generated four:

A Mine, which mines turqouise. It has 13 guards, a 2 HD leader, and 75 slaves, with 16 units of turqouise ore. The ferry, which is the only line of communication with the city, has sunk, leaving the mine isolated. Three significant NPCs were rolled up: the ferry captain; a disloyal, influential slave; and a brutal foreman. 
Another Mine, which mines tourmaline. It has 12 guards, a 2 HD leader, and 60 slaves, with 19 units of tourmaline ore. A gang of slaves are sneaking resources out to local smugglers. Three significant NPCs were rolled up: a brutal foreman, another brutal foreman, and the chief engineer. 
A Smugglers' Den. The smugglers are being actively sought after for retribution by a Noble House. It is a medium-sized network, with 60 members. In the den they have Treasure Type E, 14 units of opium, 15 units of tea, and 6 slaves.  
An Observatory. Important equipment has recently gone missing. There are 10 clay golems, 10 slaves, 10 guards, 11 astronomers, and 1 2 HD head guard, and Treasure Types K, L, N and O. 

Next some lairs. Again, I generated four.

Makara. [Stone statues resembling a humanoid crocodilian with a peacock's tail; they are found here and there in the Topaz Isles, sometimes submerged in the shallow seas, sometimes on land.] They are 8 in number. The makara are waiting for the return of an ancient artefact; one of them, obviously marked out as a leader, seems to be holding its hands out in waiting. Once the artefact is returned, the makara will serve the returner for one lunar month. Treasure: Lx5.
-The ancient artefact is a disc, 18 inches in diameter, of complexity 10. It is made of shell. It emits a shimmering sword of sheer force which can be wielded as per the Mordenkainen’s Sword spell, activatable once per day for d6 turns. 
Locathah. 150 in number, with a 5 HD leader, 12 3 HD guards. Treasure Type: A. The locathah are experts at capturing squid-men and have d3 of them captive on any given day.  
Sea naga. It lairs in a deep cave in a cliff face which curves back on itself in a spiral; the naga's home is in the middle. It has Treasure Type G. It is worshipped by a group of tamasic men (gibbon men, 16 in number, with Treasure Type B). 
Tamasic Men. 19 in number, axlotl men. They have uncovered an ancient artefact during their miserable attempts at mining.
-The ancient artefact is a star, of complexity 2. It is made of stone. It can be activated for prismatic spray 1/week.

These lairs and small communities are then placed on sea hexes as desired. In addition to the random generator tables which create these adventure locales, there are also 20 pre-made adventure locales of my own design which can also be placed here and there on the map.

Ancient Artefacts are generated randomly and have a system a little like that found in Gamma World 2nd edition; the greater the complexity, the harder the artefact is to operate and the more likely that something will go wrong when the PCs are trying to figure it out. 

Tamasic Men are men who have been re-incarnated in animal form due to their indolence and complacency in previous lives. 

Finally, I decide to generate a few ruins in the Old Town. Whenever PCs want to explore the Old Town they can do this and there is a system for randomly generating their discoveries as they go. But Old Town locations can also be pre-determined if the DM desires it. I thought I'd roll a couple up as additional adventure locales which the PCs can hear about.

Ruin 1 – A park. Old, overgrown, with crumbling walls. The main inhabitant is a ghost - a seductive baital [a type of demonic spirit which inhabits corpses]. There are also gloomwings lurking in the trees. 
Ruin 2 – A ziggurat, ancient and reclaimed by forest. The main inhabitants are cultists. It is a small cult – a 1st level holy man, 3 1st level holy man assistants, and 14 1 HD members. Treasure Type: C. The cult is despised and persecuted by a religious sect in the city proper. They are millenarian and cruel. 
Ruin 3 – A plaza. Old, overgrown, and crumbling. The main inhabitants are exiled revolutionaries. They are race warriors advocating genocide of slug-men. But they only pay lip-service to their beliefs. They actually have abandoned themselves to wanton hedonism. They are a small band of 11, with one 2 HD leader and Treasure Type: C. 
A Special Site - A high column. It is covered in spiders' webs; the spiders are poisonous (save versus death; success is 20 hp damage). The column is hollow and a secret door leads inside to a narrow chamber. Within is a trove of Treasure Type: I. It is guarded by two chinthe [guardian lion/dog spirits] who have been trapped there for aeons. 

As stated, some of this will not make total sense without the book in front of you; also, bear in mind this is one substantive chapter out of seven; there are five other geographical zones which have similar random-generation systems for campaign set-up brainstorming. Each is approximately 60 pages. There is also a bestiary with 50+ entries, rules on character generation, and Appendices A-Q, ranging from a random poison generator to fortune telling rules, to rules on magical tattoos. 

And it should be ready....soon

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Spear of Eternity

When I was about 10, a friend and I tried to write fantasy epics. I can't remember what his was about, but mine was called The Spear of Eternity. It clocks in at 61 pages and features a quest ranging over the continent of Snith to find the many parts of said spear, put it together, and use it to kill Keshin the Death Lord. The final chapter is split into two separate parts to build suspense - I was an absolute pathfinder in that respect when you consider the approach taken to the Harry Potter and Hunger Games films. I think of The Spear of Eternity as the great unpublished work of fiction of the 20th Century.

I don't want to give any more details away in case, at the time of my death, this lost masterpiece is uncovered and published to rampant and unbridled success, akin to Edwin Drood or The Love of the Last Tycoon. I wouldn't want to spoil that for my descendants. But I will give you a glimpse at some of the masterly interior illustrations.

This is called "The Chaos Mutants Attack Dwarves". Not sure why the dwarf on the left has his axe in his belt right in the middle of a battle. Frankly I think he deserves to be clubbed in the face with a massive morning star.

This is Rikki the Tigerman. In the first scene in which he appears, he bites the head off something that has "the body of a huge ogre and the head of an elephant" and then introduces himself as "An expert scout and fighter". Show off.

A zombie, fresh from battle. He looks friendly, but looks can be deceptive. Zombies are capable of whipping their claws around "in a hideous carousel of death". I have to admit there's no way that's my line; I must have cribbed it from somewhere. I'm not altogether sure I knew what a carousel was when I was 10.

A map of Snith. Not only is there a Forest of Destruction; there is also a Forest of Death. No Forest of Doom, though. To the West are the Howling Caves, the Scimitar Hills, and the Desert of Snakes; in the North the Icefinger Mountains; in the East, the Dark Lands. No prizes for guessing where the Death Lord lives.

If you are an agent or publisher who is keen to discuss terms, you can leave a comment in the blog post.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Covering Ourselves in Glory

Everybody is talking about the new D&D covers. My own opinion is that they're not what I want, but they're not as bad as they could have been, and I like that at least they've retreated from the awesome-adventurer-striking-an-awesome-pose school of RPG art. This is more the monsters, monsters, rahhh school of RPG art, and while I don't find that hugely compelling nor do I find it irritating. And I'm 32; I reckon if I was 12 I'd be all over monsters, monsters, rahhh.

But this makes me think about my favourite RPG book covers. What are the covers that stand out in my mind as being genuinely excellent? Because, let's face it, most RPG art is studiously mediocre. I'll narrow it down to a top 3.

1. The Keith Parkinson Rifts cover. I've never in my life played or owned Rifts, but I remember seeing this book in a shop somewhere when I was a kid and thinking it was among the greatest things I'd ever seen - to 9 year old me, it felt properly edgy and adult and even a wee bit scary. You shouldn't underestimate the power of genuine weirdness to entice young and impressionable minds.

2. The Changeling: The Dreaming cover. The game itself is emo to-the-max, but this cover is like no other cover that there has ever been for a game before or since. Like it or not, it's different. It says: this is going to be something unique. And it gives almost nothing away. All you know is that it makes you curious to know what's inside.

3. The Planescape campaign setting cover. Again, like with Rifts, I can remember the first time I saw the cover to Planescape - it was in, of all places, Tel Aviv, in a game shop I had wandered into. I remember just thinking, "What's that all about?" The Lady of Pain logo looked almost like some Pacific Island idol or Mayan bas-relief, but then what's underneath is, again, like nothing you've ever seen on the cover of an RPG before or since. I think of all RPG covers out there, this may be one of the absolute bravest, because it says almost nothing and has almost no real content: it's for all intents-and-purposes a weird street in a weird city with people walking along it. If that. But it has a feel; the feel pulls you in. You have to wonder who commissioned it - who said, "Yes, that will be exciting and make people want to play it." The painting has no earthly business being the cover of a flagship AD&D boxed set. It's not awesome-adventurer-striking-an-awesome-pose school; it's not monsters, monsters, rahh school; it's not let's-go-adventuring-AD&D-first-edition school; it's.... trippy and vague and ephemeral and you're not sure what's going on school. And in its own way, that gave it a wow factor beyond dragons and beholders and people with big swords.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Generative Hexcrawling

Following on from JDJarvis's interesting recent post on exploration, I've been thinking today about what I'm going to call Generative Hexcrawling - or, to put it more bluntly, creating a rudimentary system to make simple exploration or searching useful and interesting. In particular, I'm trying here to make a system that can be used when the PCs engage in exploring a wide area looking for interesting stuff - particularly in an Indiana Jones, "Let's search for weird ancient ruins and their contents deep in the jungle/desert/mountains" type affairs.

So here goes. The basic concept is based around the Exploring Day. The Exploring Day is broken into two segments, morning and afternoon, although you could divide it into more segments as appropriate.

In two segments, a certain area can be explored. I'm going to suggest 1 hex on the basis of a 1 mile hex-map, although this will depend on the geography. (Exploring 1 square mile of jungle versus one square mile of desert is a vastly different proposition.)

Each segment spent exploring an area, the DM rolls 4d6. If the first d6 results in a 1, there is an encounter. If the second d6 results in a 1, a minor site is discovered. If the third d6 results in a 1, an inhabited ruin is discovered. If the fourth d6 results in a 1, the party gets lost and ends up exiting the hex at a randomly determined edge. These can obviously be tweaked or modified as desired.

An 'encounter' result is a typical random encounter (although you could introduce elements like "somebody breaks a leg", "somebody gets bitten by a poisonous spider", etc.). A 'site' result is a small location, possibly with treasure or a Gamma World style MYSTICAL ANCIENT ARTIFACTTM, possibly with a monster. An 'inhabited ruin' is a sizeable complex inhabited by a significant being or population (and probably mapped out using something like the fast and dirty AFF2 dungeon map generator).

You would then need random tables for encounters, sites, MYSTICAL ANCIENT ARTIFACTSTM, and inhabited ruins, with sub-tables for more details such as treasure types and magical features. I won't do this properly at this stage, but for illustration's sake, I'll give some d6 tables, assuming an area of jungle is being explored:

1. Carnivorous apes
2. Giant beetle
3. Giant centipede
4. NPC explorers
5. Tyrannosaur
6. Yuan-ti

1. Monolith
2. Cave
3. Shrine
4. Abandoned village
5. Tower
6. Cairn

Inhabited Ruin
1. Cultists
2. Dragon
3. Degenerate tribe
4. Oozes
5. Hook horrors
6. Manscorpions

Once two segments have been spent exploring a hex, it is 'exhausted' and does not reveal any more secrets, although encounters will still occur in it.

Rather than exploring, if the PCs have no rations, they can spend a segment foraging for a day's worth of food (thus a day spent foraging allows two days of further exploration). During this time, encounters can occur, though not discoveries of sites or ruins.

Each hex successfully exhausted gives a 100 XP bonus to each PC.